The Humanitarian Truce in DRC: A Step Towards Peace or a Strategic Maneuver?

Adrienne Watson

On July 4, 2024, Adrienne Watson, the spokesperson for the United States National Security Council, announced a two-week humanitarian truce in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This initiative, welcomed by the United States, aims to ease the dire humanitarian situation in the North Kivu region, where nearly 3 million people are internally displaced (IDP). The recent escalation of fighting in this province has prevented humanitarian workers from reaching hundreds of thousands of displaced people around Kanyabayonga and forced over 100,000 people to flee their homes.

The truce, beginning on July 5 at midnight local time and continuing until July 19, commits the parties to the conflict to cease hostilities, allow the voluntary return of displaced persons, and ensure unhindered access to vulnerable populations for humanitarian workers. The areas most affected by the fighting, where civilian populations suffer the most, are particularly covered by this truce.

This initiative builds on the confidence measures established during the visit of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines to the DRC and Rwanda last November, and her subsequent meetings with Presidents Felix Tshisekedi of the DRC and Paul Kagame of Rwanda. The United States remains firmly committed to the Luanda process and supports the Angolan government’s efforts to address the current and historical causes of this persistent crisis.

The governments of the DRC and Rwanda have expressed their support for this two-week humanitarian truce, aimed at relieving the suffering of vulnerable populations and creating conditions conducive to a broader de-escalation of tensions in eastern DRC. The U.S. government calls on all parties to honor the spirit of the truce before it comes into effect.

Patrick Muyaya, spokesperson for the DRC government and Minister of Communication and Media, stated on his social media account: “Our country has responded favorably to the two-week ‘humanitarian truce’ proposed by the USA on the front lines to provide assistance to our populations, victims of Rwandan barbarity. During this time, and knowing Rwanda’s methods, our forces will remain vigilant to prevent any attempts to violate this truce by our enemies. During the strategic meeting around the President of the Republic, we made a general assessment of the situation on the ground.”

The DRC presidency also communicated via its social media account that President Tshisekedi chaired an expanded Supreme Defense Council meeting on Friday, July 5, 2024. The president then led the first meeting of the high command task force on the security situation in eastern DRC. During this meeting, the military high command presented tactical evaluations to President Tshisekedi, also the supreme commander of the FARDC and the national police. The President ordered appropriate actions to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity.

Neither the Rwandan government nor the M23 rebels, supported by Rwanda, have officially responded to Adrienne Watson’s statement. This lack of reaction raises questions and speculations. Analysts are divided, with some fearing that the truce will allow Rwandan and M23 forces to regroup and strengthen their positions, while others see it as an opportunity for genuine de-escalation.

On Saturday, July 6, 2024, Corneille Nangaa, often perceived as the leader of the M23 rebels but considered by some as a puppet, took advantage of the truce to hold a meeting with the population of Kirumba, recently occupied by M23 and Rwandan forces in the Lubero territory. He stated that his goal was to march on Kinshasa to overthrow President Tshisekedi.

On the Rwandan side, although authorities have not made an official statement, supporters of the Kigali regime and M23, notably on YouTube channels and social media, continue to openly support M23’s actions while criticizing the Congolese government. Some observers believe that this propaganda is orchestrated by Rwandan intelligence and communication services.

The complexity of the situation is exacerbated by President Kagame’s vocal support for M23, as well as calls from some Rwandan parliamentarians for open support for the group. At the UN, Rwandan representatives also maintain a defensive line in favor of M23.

This humanitarian truce, although welcomed by the United States and other international actors, is seen by many as a strategic maneuver allowing Rwandan and M23 forces to reposition and prepare new offensives. Concerns are heightened as the Congolese army often avoids urban combat, potentially allowing M23 and its Rwandan allies to use civilians as human shields when they return to rebel-controlled areas.

Congolese citizens express deep confusion and frustration, unable to distinguish between Rwandan forces and M23 rebels, the latter often being former RDF (Rwandan Defense Forces) or FPR Inkotanyi soldiers. Many M23 fighters still have family ties within Rwandan security services, including among President Kagame’s guards.

The response from the United States and European countries, calling on Rwanda to stop supporting M23 without taking concrete measures such as severe sanctions or aid suspension, also fuels suspicion and skepticism. This situation raises questions about the true willingness of the international community to resolve this conflict sustainably.

The humanitarian truce represents a crucial moment to assess the sincerity of the commitments of the parties involved in the conflict and to observe the international community’s response to a Rwandan regime whose actions are increasingly criticized.